Years of cat-and-mouse game come to an end as top mobster is stuck in an Italian clinic

  • Messina Denaro captured after 30 years on the run
  • The biggest mobster faces 20 life sentences for several crimes
  • Started killing young, guilty of a slew of murders
  • Secret letters show he considered himself a ‘righteous man’

ROME, Jan 16 (Reuters) – Italian investigators knew a lot about mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro.

He liked to wear designer clothes, expensive sunglasses and Rolex watches, he loved video games and had a taste for luxury foods. He was also a ruthless killer who once claimed to have killed enough people to fill a cemetery.

What they didn’t know was where he was.

But on Monday, after 30 years on the run, Italy’s most wanted mobster was finally captured, seized from a private clinic in the Sicilian capital Palermo after police discovered he was receiving cancer treatment there.

“It’s a day of celebration when we can tell our children that the Mafia can be beaten,” said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who flew directly to Sicily when news of the arrest broke. announced, emphasizing the importance of capture.

Messina Denaro was born in the southwestern Sicilian town of Castelvetrano in 1962, the son of a mobster. He followed his father into the crowd and at 15 he was already carrying a gun. Police believe he committed his first murder when he was 18.

The Castelvetrano clan was allied with the Corleonesi, led by Salvatore “the Beast” Riina, who became the undisputed “boss of bosses” through his ruthless pursuit of power.

Nicknamed “‘U Siccu” (The Skinny One), Messina Denaro became his protege and showed he could be as ruthless as his master, receiving 20 life sentences in trials held in absentia for his role in a series of mob killings.

Details of his crimes emerged during numerous court hearings.

Police say he was heavily involved in planning the 1992 murders of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked the nation and sparked a crackdown that led to Riina’s arrest in 1993 .

He was also held responsible for subsequent bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 which killed 10 people in a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to force the government to end its war on the Sicilian mob, known as the Cosa Nostra (Our Thing).

He was also found guilty of helping to organize the kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in an attempt to dissuade the boy’s father from testifying against the Mafia. The boy was held for two years before being strangled and his body dissolved in acid.


Messina Denaro went into hiding in 1993 as an increasing number of defectors began to provide details of his role in the mafia. He communicated with other mafiosi via “pizzini”, small pieces of paper sometimes written in code distributed by messengers.

A mass of these notes were found in 2006 when police arrested Bernardo Provenzano, who had run Cosa Nostra after Riina’s arrest. In a letter to a contact, Messina Denaro said he couldn’t believe how negligent Provenzano had been.

“When I receive a letter, even from family members, I answer as soon as possible and immediately burn the one that has arrived,” he wrote.

He never married, but was known to have a number of lovers. Denaro wrote that he had a daughter, but never met her. He is also believed to have a son, but little is known about him.

As police repeatedly swept through Sicily for clues to his whereabouts, more and more correspondence emerged showing they were dealing with someone who saw himself very differently from how he was described. by his enemies.

“I only care about being a just man, I have made fairness my philosophy of life and I hope to die a just man,” he wrote in a letter dated February 1, 2005, found in a abandoned hideout.

He cites the Bible and the French writer Daniel Pennac, among others, and laments the fact that he had little formal education.

In a recording listened to from prison, Riina is heard complaining about her former protege, apparently disturbed by the news that he was investing in wind farms and angry that he had not taken charge of the mafia, as he had. .

“The only guy who could do something because he was straight…didn’t do anything,” Riina told a fellow inmate.

Despite his notoriety, prosecutors have always doubted Messina Denaro became the ‘boss of bosses’ after Provenzano’s capture, saying it was more likely he was simply the head of Cosa Nostra in western Sicily .

Nonetheless, the fact that he managed to evade arrest for so many years showed that he had a fierce and loyal following.

Rumors surfaced last year that he was seriously ill and prosecutors appear to have finally located him thanks to the fact that he needed regular treatment at a clinic in Palermo.

“We didn’t win the war, we didn’t defeat the mafia but this battle was a key battle to win, and it’s a blow to organized crime,” Prime Minister Meloni said.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Nick Macfie

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